“When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: ‘House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.”- Neil Gaiman
So yeah, this is pretty much my life, these days. Since I’ve gotten back into short stories (3 of which I’ve gotten acceptance letters on, whoo!) I am, once again, constantly working on something new.
Even when at my most alert and focused, I have the attention span of a flea. I can’t stand to sit and do nothing – something, I think, that has occasionally been of annoyance to people who care for me. I am scatterbrained. Very rarely do I remember what I am told.
When I’m writing and the writing is going well? It gets even worse. Everything (and I do mean everything) that is not directly related to the story that I am writing at the moment just goes *poof* somewhere between my ears and my brain. I have to write notes to remind myself to do the things that are, under normal circumstances, routine habits. I even, on occasion, entirely forget to eat until I find myself feeling mysteriously light-headed and faint.
On my kitchen door, so that I cannot leave the house without seeing them, a checklist: “Do you have your keys? Do you have your glasses? Are you wearing pants?”
Okay, so maybe the last one is a bit of an exaggeration, but I have forgotten to put on a bra and it wasn’t until I was halfway down the road that I realized that my boobs were perhaps a bit too mobile . . .
When I’m writing, I don’t dare to cook in the morning before leaving home or so much as plug in my straightening iron out of fear of coming home to a smoking ruin and poor, smoldering cats. I have sticky notes covering every edge of my work monitor and more digital sticky notes on the screen. Ditto for my computer at home, the bathroom mirror, and my bedside table.
And this week? Out of pure self defense I appear to have decided to take notes on my own person. In sharpie. I woke up this morning with “Galliger” written on my arm in violent purple. I don’t actually remember doing it, but I did remember what the note meant. I was supposed to pick up my mom’s spelling challenged dog and take him to the vet.
….VOILA! I have finally found a note taking method that works and that I can’t lose!
Is it worth it to become nearly non-functional when I’m writing? Hell yeah! There’s no drug quite like it, honestly, even my beloved caffeine can’t compete with the rush of having written. Today, I have written. I have created a world, I have created people and made them speak and made them feel. Today I have written, and it was good.
Better than any illicit substance, that feeling. Who needs antidepressants and/or a clean house? I wrote something!
Sooo, I will keep my notes around, keep setting alarms to remind me that food is, also, a necessity, and perhaps keep writing notes all over my arms until I appear to be tattooed with words in my near illegible scrawl . . .
In the meantime . . . does anyone have a guaranteed way to get sharpie off of skin?
I have never seriously considered being anything other than a writer. Sure, there was that period of wanting to be an archaeologist after seeing Indiana Jones the first time when I was eight or so, which of course evolved into an obsession with paleontology when Jurassic Park came out, but the reality of what those careers are was never what I was interested in. It was all about the adventure.
By the time I was 14 or so, writing was the only thing I could ever see myself doing. And of course, I had the big dreams of a bestseller by the time I was 30, spent long teenage-girl hours in class practicing my signature for those inevitable book signing sessions…but I never approached writing as a profession with any sort of blinders on.
I always knew it would be hard. I knew that success would depend as much on luck as hard work. I knew I would have to make sacrifices. And I don’t regret that.
There are, however, times when it becomes particularly difficult, when I start to question if I’m doing the right thing, when things like no health insurance, no retirement, or “where are groceries coming from this week?” can have me wondering if I’ve done the right thing, choosing a low-wage, nearly stress-free job with writing time over what I could be doing with those two bright, shiny degrees on my wall. I wonder if I’m really good enough to do what I want to do.
It tends to be about at this point that I tend to get an acceptance in my email. I get a fee for a story sale in the mail or in my paypal. And all those doubts pop like bubbles. I know that this is the right thing for me. I know it like I know the sky is blue and the grass is green. There has never been anything else, and that acceptance letter, however unimportant or tiny the story or market, is exactly what I need to tell me that this is it, that this is what I am meant to do with my life, and that no matter what anyone else says (including the little doubting-me in my head) that isn’t ever going to change.
One of my favorite things about living in the future is the availability of free college classes. I, of course, was one of those people who would be quite happy remaining in grad school my entire life, earning multiple degrees in multiple fields. Alas, life requires money, and money requires jobs. But that no longer means I can’t keep taking classes, and in subjects I’d never have had access to before.
There is a new class on Gender in Comics over at Canvas that I think the readers of WRC would be particularly interested in. Gender Through Comic Books is a massive open online course, otherwise known as a MOOC, due to start on April 2.
It all looks rather exciting for those with an academic turn of mind or anyone who wants to learn more about the subject in general. I’ve already roped one or two comics-fan friends into taking the class with me. Even if you choose to only audit the course – watching the videos and discussions but not participating in the graded assignments – it could be a fun way to exercise the gray matter.
According to the course page:
“The course, led by Christina Blanch of Ball State University, uses a study of comic books incorporating highly interactive video lectures, online discussions between students, and real-time socially driven interviews. Lectures will run on Tuesdays as well as live interviews with the comic industry’s biggest names such as Terry Moore, Brian K Vaughan, Mark Waid, and more!”
The syllabus looks awesome, including many comics I already have on hand (specifically Y the Last Man) as well as some classic comics from the golden age. The comics are discounted through Comixology for use in the course, so while it is a lot to buy, it isn’t going to cost too much even for my modest budget.
So come on, readers, join me in taking this class. It’ll be fun.
(Cross-posted from Women Reading Comics)
The last few days at work, we’ve had no internet or network. This has meant no forms to pull off of the server, no ability to scan or email documents, and because the problem was in the phone line we use to fax, no faxing either. Yay, free days at work because we can’t do anything, right? Well, it also meant no tumbling, no twitter, no flash games, no fanfiction or digital comics to read.
I got a lot of writing done. Or, at least I did on Friday. It was almost a relief to have all of those distractions unavailable – like an extended period of invoking my favorite focusing tool: Freedom.
But by the middle of the day on Monday, this burst of writing productivity had slowed, my brain seemed to be moving through molasses instead of being the chaotic, zooming-in-all-directions intergalactic freeway it usually is. The characters that live in my noggin weren’t just quiet, they were sleeping deeper than Rip Van Winkle after a bender.
The lack of interactivity was getting to me. I couldn’t multitask, because pretty much the only task my computer could do unconnected was pull up my writing from the thumb drive it lives on. I couldn’t get to name generators for random names to give my NPCs — erm….shopkeepers and random inconsequential people in my stories. I couldn’t research armor and weaponry. I couldn’t check the Etsy store I just opened to see if anyone’d shown an interest in my first item there. I couldn’t blog.
And my brain just sort of slowly. . . slowed down . . . to . . . a . . . crawl.
At the same time, I was feeling anxious. There were some definite office work related things I needed to do but couldn’t. I wasn’t getting my word count met over my lunch break like I usually do (though, really, Friday probably made up for that in spades). I needed to look for some more freelance assignments, because, as always, I need money.
I’m no longer the addict I once was. I don’t go from all day at work on the internet to immediately jumping on the computer at home, I no longer break out into cold sweats or make fruitless trips to radio shacks an hour away when my internet goes down at night…but I still felt like someone had cut off my right arm or, perhaps more accurately, an important section of my brain was missing.
Maybe neuroscience is onto something about how our brains are changing due to modern technology. While I love being able to disconnect when I need to focus, when I need the tech, I want it to work, and having it not work feels almost like I am the one turned off, not the internet connection. And while I love living in the future and would welcome the Singularity (provided the transcended human/robot race manages to keep all those important things that make us people) . . . at the same time, it’s a little worrying that I have become as dependent as I am.
One of my favorite Flash Fiction Prompt exercises is to use randomly generated images to create a story. One of the best pieces of flash fiction came from that, and it is currently out on submissions in the hopes that someone will agree in my assessment of it. One of my favorite tools for this is Flickr Photo Fortune – a generator that sources three images from flickr based on a randomly generated tag. It can often be quite a challenge to pull together three unrelated images into a story. So that’s what today’s Flash will be for me today. If you try it out, leave a link to your story in the comments.
Somehow I got the tag “black and white” which meant my photos were particularly random except for the fact that they were in black and white. Since only one of the photos I got was CC licensed, I’ll just be linking them here. They were: Some cops, Some Blokes On A Bridge, and Some Books. It’ll be a super-short one this time:
It happened every Tuesday.
People would go to the park, as they did every day, to run, to exercise, to sit and read the sanctioned newspapers. They would sit on benches, they would walk along the trails, and they would lean against the railing and look out over the water running under the bridge.
What they would not do was look at each other. As they went about their usual business in the park, going from here to there, or exercising, or doing whatever it was they did, they would pause and do something miraculous. Children quietly tucked wrapped packages between the limbs of the trees that they climbed. Runners would drop similar packages into bins, those who sat on benches would reach underneath and attach something to the bottom of the seat. Usually the same people would also pick up a package, similarly wrapped, from another tree or bench or bush or bin a bit further down the path, always in the same surreptitious manner. They would all do so carefully, and not without looking over their shoulder, but always with an air of casual nonchalance. They wouldn’t make their actions obvious. To flee, to act nervous, to look around too much would be to invite the attention of the ever-present police officers standing on the corners.
So everyone proceeded quietly and orderly in their careful exchange of packages without attracting the attention of the authorities. No one wanted to do that, because no one wanted this weekly exchange to end, and end it would, if anyone in a position of power ever knew.
Tuesdays were Library Day in the park.
Everyone knows I can’t resist a furry face. Otherwise, how would I have ended up with eight pet cats, one massive pet dog, and occasional visits from the farm’s feral cat colony to feed?
I live in a food desert. This means I have no choice but to shop at Walmart, which I hate with a burning passion, but that’s a topic for another post.
There’s a cat that lives in the Walmart parking lot. This cat has been there for about a month and a half now, and looks almost exactly like my own Evilmew (who is not so evil anymore, but names stick). I usually say things to it as I pass it in the parking lot, as it ducks beneath parked cars scrounging to food. Things like “Aww, kitty” or “Poor baby” or “I wish someone would give you a home.”
So today when I went on my weekly grocery run, I was once again murmuring over the kitty in the parking lot as I passed it peering from beneath a car as I walked back to my own. The cat started following me this time, all the way back to my car, which it ducked under as I was loading my groceries. After a few moments of standing there, I felt a fuzzy warmth around my ankles and looked down. The cat was weaving around my feet, so I reached down and cuddled it for a few minutes. I was surprised that it was so friendly, strays are usually so much more wary of humans. This, of course, likely means that the cat was the product of an unwanted litter that was kept long enough to be socialized and then deposited in the parking lot. I’m sure a lot of people think this is the kind thing to do, that the kittens are likely to be picked up in a place where so many people will see them. But this is winter, and engines are warm places to crawl up into, and kittens don’t live long in parking lots.
Oh, how I wished right then that I had room for it at home. Kittens don’t live too long in shelters here. It’s not the shelters’ faults, not really, there’s just too many cats and too few people who want them. Only a few days ago, I heard that someone of good means was getting their male cats fixed so that they wouldn’t spray, but not getting their female cats fixed because they wanted kittens. I had to bite my tongue about how many kittens get killed each week because no one will take them. And here was this poor little cat, purring and soaking up what little love I could give it in that parking lot. It might be a bit funny that the poor little cat managed to find the one person in that parking lot most likely to try to help, but I’ve always found the wee beasties have an unerring instinct for these things.
So, I don’t have room at home, but what I did have was a huge bag of cat food sitting where I’d just put it in my trunk. I tugged open the corner of that bag of cat food and grabbed two big handfuls of kibble. I led the cat back to the buggy corral – under the theory that it was probably the safest place from cars in the parking lot – and dropped my two big handfuls of food on the ground there. It was what I could do, right then and there, so I did.
As I drove away, the little cat was munching away happily. And I was still wishing someone would give it a home, since I can’t. I’m more than full-up. As my mom and B always try to tell me, it is not my job alone to save all of the homeless animals in the world. 100 acres of nearly empty land or not, my purse still has to be able to dole out for the food and vet care. It doesn’t stop me from being sad, though, when I see a homeless animal. It might be a bit funny that the poor little cat managed to find the one person in that parking lot most likely to try to help, but I’ve always found the wee beasties have an unerring instinct for these things.
This Walmart cat is why I encourage people so heavily to spay and neuter their cats and, if they can afford it, to do so with any feral cats they can using live traps (and dock the ear to indicate the feral cat is fixed). Low or no-cost clinics and feral catch-and-release programs are almost impossible to find around here, unfortunately, and those that do exist only do so on a part-time basis during certain times of the year. But any little bit helps. I do the best I can with the little bit of money I have, which unfortunately means prioritizing fixing any outdoor females that show up, feral or not. I take care of the animals under my care, sometimes better than I take care of myself, whether they are beloved pets or the occasional feral visitors to Jen’s Kitty Soup Kitchen. Because this is what being a caring and responsible human being means. Not dumping them in a parking lot in the hopes that someone will take them home.
And if you have room in your home and your heart, take one or two of the little orphan cats out there, wandering the parking lots of the world, and love them like they deserve to be loved.
(Note: While I rarely take or ask for help to deal with my pets, I am not averse to donations to help with spaying and neutering the feral cats that hang around or get dumped at the farm I live on. See the button in the right hand column of my home page if you’d like to donate.)
Writing short stories is nothing like writing a novel and, well, in my year off to work on my novel it seems that my short story muscles have atrophied.
I can’t find the ending.
To be fair, I’ve always had trouble with endings. They’re the hardest part to write. This Ain’t No Fairy Story is perhaps the only time I have had the ending clear in my mind almost as soon as I started writing the story. I had a defined Point Z that I needed to get to and I knew that my characters had to do B-Y to get there. I didn’t quite know how they were going to accomplish that, but I at least knew where they were going.
I like to keep a little mystery. Knowing everything about a story tends to destroy my drive to write it, which is why I’ve never been one of the great outliners of the profession. I need that thirst for discovery to keep me going.
So I don’t outline or plan. It is, however, good for me to have a destination in mind and lately, trying to get back into writing short stories again, it has been difficult to find that destination. My endpoints are lost in the fog. I can’t see the signs, my characters are wandering about wondering what they are supposed to be doing and where to go.
It’s hard to find an ending or finish anything like that. I know it’ll come back to me as I get back into practice. Writing a short story is necessarily a different animal from writing a novel. For one thing, short stories rarely completely resolve all plot threads and occasionally create more questions than answers. That cliffhanger ending from which there is no rescue can often be the charm of a good short story.
But sometimes a true ending is what you need, and I know it’s there somewhere. It’s around the next curve, maybe, or over the next hill. I just have to learn how to read the signs along the way, and I’ll remember how, next time.
This week for #FridayFlash Fiction, I’ll be doing Chuck Wendig’s Game of Aspects challenge, though I’m gonna have to make this one a super-short drabble due to Work Stuff To Do.
When I rolled the dice, I got the following:
Subgenre: Magical Realism
Setting: A Martian Greenhouse
Element to Include: A Talking Sword
I…took a few liberties with the talking sword.
“No, no, no, no, no. Cut above the fork. Above the fork in the branch, I say!”
Anna glared at the pruning shears in her hand. The facial-user-interface in the handle grinned at her in what the designers likely intended to be a reassuring manner, as if a tool sharp enough to cut diamonds could be anything other than menacing.
“Of the two of us,” she said to the shears, “Which one has doctorates in xenobotany and botanical psychology? I know how to properly prune a fontanesia rubra.”
“I still think you should prune above the fork,” the shears said helpfully. “The wiki says…”
“And what source material did the wiki reference?” Anna made careful cuts at several key junctures and the plant shook itself happily. She ran a hand over some of the soft purple leaves. The fontanesia started to purr.
“Aliens in Your Garden by Rufus Blesting.”
“Blesting has never been to Mars and, as far as I know, has never cared for a violet fontanesia,” she said to the shears as she hung them up. “If he pruned one like that, instead of by the new buds, it’s a wonder that he’s still got all of his fingers.”
The light from the lasers on the shears went from orange to scarlet. Anna grabbed a trowel and moved on to the nerium aestivum, idly listening to the chattering of the other tools and plants.
“The nerium aestivum prefers a loose, sandy soil,” the trowel said, voice slightly muffled as she thrust it into the pot.
“Oh for…” she muttered to herself and tapped the badge on her vest. ”Eric, have you been messing about with the tool AI again? They’re quoting wikis at me.”
“Sorry, Anna,” a voice said from the badge. “Whitney said they were getting too cheeky, she ‘only wants pertinent and helpful facts’ apparently.”
“But I like them cheeky! It gets lonely down here without someone to chat to, and talking encyclopedias of bad facts don’t make for good conversation.”
She poured some fertilizer into the pot with the nerium, taking care to mix it into the soil evenly, ignoring the chattering trowel.
“You could always chat me up instead of your shovel, you know,” Eric said.
“And I’m sure Tony would appreciate that,” she said, smiling in spite of herself.
“He’s back on earth, he wouldn’t even know, now would he?”
The nerium ventured a red tendril onto Anna’s shoulder, curling around her arms in an embrace. She tugged a feather from underneath her vest and tickled it, sending the tentacle back to the plant and causing it to shake in what could only be interpreted as silent giggles.
The static on the radio resolved itself, with the usual delay that came with transmissions from Earth.
“And Tony would like to remind his husband that he is listening,” the new, static-filled voice said from the badge. “Besides, Anna’s not going to leave that greenhouse of hers for the comfort of the castle. She likes playing in the dirt too much. How’s the rosebush coming, sweetheart?”
Anna wiped a smear of dirt onto her forehead as she looked up toward the center of the huge greenhouse. The rosa persona was stretching arms out in the false sunlight, the bloom at its head tilting and turning toward her as she watched. Anna waved, and the rosa twirled, petals flowing outwards with the centrifugal force of its spin.
“She just woke up,” Anna said, laughing as she watched the flower dance.
“You see, Eric, Anna only has eyes for one girl,” Tony managed through the static.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Anna vaguely heard Eric say, and a few minutes later a waltz began to drift from the speakers. Anna shook her head and tapped her badge off just as the rosa danced up and took her into petal-soft arms, spinning her into dizzying circle around the room.
I have just read what is, perhaps, the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard a writer say, especially as it’s coming from the mouth of a children’s author. Terry Deary, in statements that seem to be motivated by greed, claims that libraries are no longer relevant.
This, in the middle of a major recession, when libraries are needed most.
“Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers.”
Oh, so sorry, Deary, that you’re losing money on the kids who check your books out from libraries.
But here’s the thing. Neil Gaiman (you all know how I love him) says in rebuttal that libraries create readers. I am living proof of that fact. My grandmother would stop at the library every week on her weekly trip into town for groceries, with me in tow as she cared for me while my mother was at work. I learned how to read on her knee, and some of my earliest memories were of being taken into the children’s section of the library to pick out any books I wanted for that week.
I was reading Little House on the Prairie at five years old. At twelve? It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I always seemed to baffle my teachers throughout my academic career because I’d already read our assigned reading, often years before.
I blame Nanny, and, of course, my local library. Because by the point where I was ready to start kindergarten, I was checking out stacks of books every week. A lifelong love affair with books began in that library. Reading is addictive. Once you start, you don’t stop, and I started young.
I was born to be an English Major.
As a young teenager, old enough to mind myself but still too young to drive, my mom would drop me off at the library when she picked me up from school, to stay until she got off work. On a little couch in the corner of that library, I worked my way through the entirety of its sci-fi and fantasy collection, and a good way through its general fiction. It was this period where I began to realize that my greatest dream (now that I was old enough to know that being an archaeologist probably didn’t resemble Indiana Jones in the slightest) was to make stories. I wanted to be a writer.
I’d probably never have made that discovery, if not for my local library. I wonder, now, if I would have ever learned to love reading as I do now.
In college, the library became my refuge. It was a different library, huge and somewhat intimidating to a small-town girl, a giant four-story cube. But inside? The smell was always the same – that musty old-book scent that we devoted bibliophiles so love to fetishize – and wandering the stacks would immediately quiet my anxieties. I would take the stairs up to the quiet floors and find somewhere comfortable and bare of other students and settle in to read or do my homework, surrounded by the comfort of books.
And now? If the whole Writing-The-Great-American-Fantasy Novel thing doesn’t work out, my dream job is to one day be a librarian in that same library where my love of books began. I still visit my library. I have an e-reader, but still regularly check out books, being the starving upstart writer that I am. I simply can’t afford to buy as many books as I probably would, had I any disposable income whatsoever. And though the method of checking out books has changed (over the internet, via download, or inside, via bar-code) the experience is the same.
Right now, as we sit in a recession with so many people struggling to make ends meet, we need more funding to libraries, not less. Books are one of the most accessible forms of entertainment there is, and it is impossible to read a book and not learn something. Even badly written books, for instance, can teach a fledgling teenage writer what not to do and give her hope that, if this horrible book got published, maybe she could too.
Without that hope, fostered since my youth in that tiny hometown library, I’d've probably given up this writing lark a long time ago.
My library is where my love of books was sewn, and it provided a fertile ground for that love to grow. Without libraries, there wouldn’t be nearly as many readers as there are, especially in poor, rural areas like where I grew up. We need our libraries to turn children into readers, to be one of the building-blocks of an educated society. As an author, I need libraries to introduce people to my own work, to turn them into fans and into purchasers, to turn them into people who will tell other people about my books.
If all you care about, Mr. Deary, is how much you get paid per book read, why the hell are you writing in the first place? The point isn’t how much you get paid. The point is to get your book read at all.
And libraries? Libraries are there to help that happen.
I’m writing this as my contribution to Chuck Wendig’s self-declared Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day. The always profane Mr. Wendig invited other writers to go online and offer their thoughts on book piracy, and so I will attempt to do so.
I am of two minds about book piracy, and I can’t say that I, with my extreme lack of disposable income, have never pirated anything. But if I have pirated in the past, I barely earned an eyepatch, and I do always make a point of paying for things now. If I am low on cash (and let’s face it, I am always low on cash), I now borrow from the library instead.
When my book comes out, I’m going to need every sale I can get, and I know all too well that the same is true for most of my author friends. We aren’t exactly rich. Most of us are barely getting by. By the time This Ain’t No Fairy Story comes out, I will have spent two long years working on this novel. I gave up nearly 10 months of potential writing income to focus on editing it instead of writing and selling new short stories. I’ve worked my ass off, and yes, I do want to get paid for it.
To parrot Chuck, though, it’s not just about the money, much as I need it, and piracy can help as well as hurt.
I’m dangling barely over the pit of obscurity, here, and obscurity is the enemy of any writer. I’ve had short stories published, of course, but they were in magazines with small readership or on websites with the same. The genre where I have met the most success – erotica – is one where I have always used a pseudonym to protect my identity (because you don’t work for a fundamentalist, ultra-conservative Republican while writing gay BDSM erotica and do it under your real name) and, therefore, I can’t depend on my readers in that genre to buy my novel on name recognition. You can gain readers through piracy, just as I have often converted people to authors I love by gifting them or lending them a copy of a book, but it doesn’t always work out that way. And I don’t think pirates are horrible thieves, either. I know what it’s like to want to read something and not be able to afford it.
There is a worse sort of piracy, however. It’s the one where people steal your work and then sell it as their own, and that? That is something beyond thievery. It is the lowest of the low, especially when these people are stealing from authors who have little income otherwise, who can’t afford to lose sales.
So it’s a double-edged sword. Pirates can turn into future purchasers, or they may not. They may give you further exposure, or they may not. But, here I am still sitting here and wondering where the money to feed me and the cats is coming from next week.
One thing that I am certain about, however, is that I do not approve of DRM in any form. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t offer protection to the creator, and it punishes legitimate consumers of the product, while pirates are able to obtain the product without any such restrictions. While I know that the existence of DRM on a novel is determined by the publisher and that the author may have little choice in the matter, I wholeheartedly hope that I can find a way to provide This Ain’t No Fairy Story DRM free. The people who purchase my book should not have to deal with malicious software to get it.
And I while I can’t exactly approve of piracy, I do think that if a reader can’t afford a copy of a book, there might be a better way to go about it, especially with small-name writers.
So here’s a deal for you. If you can’t afford to buy This Ain’t No Fairy Story when it comes out, click on my contact link up there at the top of the page. Drop me a note. I’ll be happy to send you a copy for free. And then drop me a review or two on Amazon or B&N or Goodreads. I don’t care what your review says, just give me one. If you hate the book, say so. If you love it, well. . .Thanks. I did try. That’s your price for your free book. One honest review. That’s all I ask, and I think it’s a fair price.